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Barr to testify before Senate panel amid growing questions about his presentation of Mueller's findings
Attorney General William Barr will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee at 10 a.m. today, his first time facing lawmakers since releasing a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report to the public two weeks ago.
Barr's testimony comes one day after a bombshell report by The Washington Post — later confirmed by other news outlets — that Mueller wrote Barr a letter in March complaining about the attorney general's initial description of his investigation's principal conclusions.
"The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office's work and conclusions," Mueller wrote, according to The Post. "There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations."
Barr's March 24 letter that Mueller was objecting to was sent to lawmakers just two days after the special counsel completed his investigation, and was the first description of Mueller's findings shown to Congress or the public. In the four-page letter, Barr selectively quoted from Mueller's 448-page report to announce that the special counsel had found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia and had decided not to accuse President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice or formally exonerate him. Barr then took the additional step of writing that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had reviewed Mueller's evidence and determined that there was insufficient evidence to support charging Trump with obstructing justice, although it was unclear if Mueller expected him to do so.
In the hours after Barr's letter was released, President Trump claimed that Mueller's findings amounted to a "total and complete exoneration" for him, although the special counsel's report would paint a far more damning portrait of his presidency than the attorney general's summary hinted at.
According to a Justice Department spokesperson, Barr and Mueller spoke on the phone for about 15 minutes the day after the special counsel sent his letter, and Mueller "emphasized" in the call "that nothing in the Attorney General's March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading," but that he was frustrated "over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the Special Counsel’s obstruction analysis."
Mueller also reportedly urged Barr to release the executive summaries from his report, although the attorney general decided that it would be best to release the entire report at once, instead of in "piecemeal fashion."
This fresh reporting about Mueller's objections to Barr's description of the special counsel's findings only raise the stakes for the AG's testimony on Capitol Hill today. Barr is expected to be grilled by Democratic lawmakers on his handling of the Mueller report, particularly over statements that he made in his March 24 letter and his April 18 press conference that don't seem to match up with the report itself. Many Democrats released statements on the eve of Barr's testimony accusing him of misleading the public and acting to protect President Trump.
According to his prepared opening statement, Barr will defend his decision to make a conclusion about obstruction of justice in his letter to Congress even when Mueller declined to do so. "A federal prosecutor’s task is to decide whether the admissible evidence is sufficient to overcome that presumption and establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If so, he seeks an indictment; if not, he does not," Barr will say. "The Special Counsel’s report demonstrates that there are many subsidiary considerations informing that prosecutorial judgment including whether particular legal theories would extend to the facts of the case and whether the evidence is sufficient to prove one or another element of a crime."
"But at the end of the day, the federal prosecutor must decide yes or no. That is what I sought to address in my March 24 letter."
Barr will also take pains to assert the Justice Department's independence from the political process — which some critics say has dwindled since Barr entered office. "From here on, the exercise of responding and reacting to the report is a matter for the American people and the political process," the attorney general is set to say. "As I am sure you agree, it is vitally important for the Department of Justice to stand apart from the political process and not to become an adjunct of it."
Ahead of Barr's testimony, some Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday made calls for the attorney general to resign, pointing to his reply to a question at a Senate hearing last month — responding "I don't know" when asked if Mueller supporting the conclusions in his summary of the report — that has come under scrutiny in light of the reporting that Barr was, in fact, aware of Mueller's frustrations since he had spoken to him and received his letter days earlier.
Barr is also scheduled to testify before the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, although he has threatened not to appear due to chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)'s plan to have staff lawyers question the AG in addition to lawmakers. The House panel will vote today on whether to allow lawmakers to turn over a half-hour of questioning per side to the comitteee's majority and minority counsels.
Infrastructure meeting: Democratic congressional leaders announced Tuesday after a meeting with President Donald Trump that the two sides had reached an agreement to aim for a $2 trillion infrastructure package, although it remains unclear what the details of the legislation will be or how it will be paid for. Both parties described the meeting in positive terms. "There was goodwill in this meeting, and that was different than some of the other meetings that we've had," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared in a statement that the sit-down was "excellent and productive."
Moore nomination: President Trump's plan to nominate conservative economist Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors appears increasingly in doubt, with multiple Republican senators expressing concerns on Tuesday. "Very unlikely that I would support that person," Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) told reporters, citing Moore's past writings on women and his view of the Fed. Even some close Trump allies have expressed doubts. "It's going to be a problematic nomination," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Tuesday. Moore has yet to be formally nominated for a position, although President Trump said in recent weeks that he would nominate Moore and 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain for the two vacant seats on the Fed board. Cain's nomination has already collapsed: he withdrew last week after four GOP senators announced plans to oppose his confirmation.
Senate Democratic recruiting woes: "After straining to defend seats in bright-red states in 2018, Democrats are focused on picking off Republicans to claim the Senate majority in 2020. But, so far, a number of the party’s high-profile recruits have said no to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the party’s campaign arm."
"Stacey Abrams, a rising star in the party after nearly winning the Georgia governor’s race last year, passed on a Senate run Tuesday despite a sustained and public recruitment that included multiple meetings with Schumer. Hours later, Rep. Cindy Axne, who flipped a swing district last year, confirmed she was running for the House again — and not challenging Iowa's first-term Republican senator, Joni Ernst." (Politico)
White House schedule
--- At 2:15 p.m., President Trump meets with members of Congress. At 6:30 p.m., the president and the first lady participate in a dinner ahead of the National Day of Prayer, which is tomorrow.
--- Vice President Mike Pence travels to Baltimore, Maryland today. At 1:15 p.m., he delivers remarks at the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association Aguila awards luncheon. At 2 p.m., he receives a briefing from ICE Baltimore Field Office leadership. At 6:05 p.m., Pence will deliver remarks at the National Day of Prayer Task Force Celebration Dinner at the Museum of the Bible in D.C. Finally, at 6:30 p.m., the vice president and Second Lady Karen Pence will join the Trumps for the National Day of Prayer dinner.
--- The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. At 11:45 a.m., the chamber will vote on confirmation of J. Campbell Barker to be a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Texas, followed by a cloture vote on the nomination of Andrew Lynn Brasher to be a U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Alabama.
--- The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber will begin consideration of H.R. 9, the Climate Action Now Act, which would require the United States to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. President Trump has announced his intention to withdraw from the pact.
Supreme Court schedule
The Supreme Court does not have any oral arguments or conference scheduled for today.
--- Former Vice President Joe Biden continues his swing through Iowa, holding campaign stops in Iowa City and Des Moines.
--- Former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) visits southeast Iowa, holding a mental health policy roundtable in Des Moines, a discussion at the Southern Iowa Mental Health Center in Ottumwa, a meet and greet in Ottumwa, a tour of the Big River Resources Ethanol Plant in Burlington, and a meeting with students and staff at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Finally, he participates in a "Leading the Nation" forum at St. Ambrose University.
--- Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) participates in a town hall hosted by KQED in Mountain View, California.
*All times Eastern